The burning in her lungs was nothing new, the fatigue in her legs as she lengthened her stride was the same as practice, and the adrenaline rushing through her veins was addictive. Haley couldn’t get enough of pushing her body to its limits; the thrill it gave her when she broke through the odds and succeeded. She was already so close to the finish line. Her eyes were soaking in the blue ribbon of first place and the trophy her team would be awarded with. The only threat that could possibly rob her of victory was sprinting just one foot ahead of her. Her body was tired, but her spirit was bouncing off the walls and parading around with the golden trophy in-hand already. She wasn’t going to lose. Not to this stick figure of a girl.
As Haley picked up her speed so did the girl beside her, and as much as she hated to admit it, her legs were much shorter than her opponent’s. Fortunately, her slightly smaller steps tapped on the ground faster than one of the other girl’s stride. Haley’s arms were like the fluttering wings of a hummingbird and her feet couldn’t possibly keep up with their speed. She surged forward, her legs bursting with one last ounce of strength, and the white tape flapping in the wind was the only shape she saw clearly now. The two girls’ ragged breathing were echoes of all their other relayers in their team, and now it was up to one of them to break that tape and claim the prize.
Sweat poured down her face and the sun’s heat wafted up to hit her from all sides—the air, the asphalt, the slight breeze. If her feet rested any less than a second on the black rubber then her shoes would surely stick to the melted pavement. Salty tears fell into her eyes, stinging them, but she refused to blink as the distance between her and the enemy became larger. Victory was hers; the tape that whipped in the wind was an encouraging rhythm a drummer boy tapped out during the midst of battle. The cheering roar of the crowd, her fellow comrades hopping up and down at the finish line, and her coach screaming for her to “keep digging”—all of it was a part of her addiction to this underappreciated sport.
Haley allowed the smile to crack her lips as the tape was almost within touching distance. Blue eyes dilated and she held her arms out as if the tape had already slapped into her chest. A breathless laugh bubbled from her lips and she crowed with delight as the stands grew wilder in their shouts.
Then, all at once, a ripping, burning stab made her left leg crumble and she fell with a skidding crash. Her fingers brushed the tape before being broken by the other girl she had worked so hard to beat. Her screaming sob was nearly drowned out by the roaring crowd, and Haley forced herself to crawl over the finish line. It was her fault they lost. She had pushed her body to the limit and it gave out on her, but Haley would be damned if she didn’t give them second place at least.
The minute her ankles crossed the line, her coach was upon her, turning her over and asking her where it hurt. She could only wave her hand at her leg. The agony of it, and the lost after being so close too much for her to form sentences.
“Get the Doc!” One of her teammates cried, panicked when Haley’s tears registered. Haley never cried. She was the backbone of the track team, the wild spirit, and hard working athlete that did everything she could to ensure their victory. She was the one that wiped the tears of her teammates away.
Haley’s hand clutched at Coach Matthic’s shirt, her nails threatened to break under the pressure, and she gritted her teeth to lock the anguished cry. She had lost.
She had lost and now she may never get to run the same way again. Her heart squeezed and fell into a black pit where it was weighed down with chains. How would anything be okay if she couldn’t run again?
“She’s done for the rest of the season, Herbert,” Doc said, with a heaviness to his words. He turned to her and brushed a few tears away. “I’m sorry, Cheetah.”
Her tears rolled down her face too fast for the doctor to catch with his thumb, and she found it ironic that even crying, she was too fast for anyone to keep pace with her boundless energy. She spent the rest of the meet on the bench, ice bags wrapped around her thigh with the help of some athletic tape, and she refused to go anywhere near a hospital until the rest of the track team finished their runs. If she couldn’t help them by running, then she’d gladly cheer them on the sidelines while they did their best. Even if her career as a runner for the season was over, Haley had a feeling that eventually she’d be able to race again like nothing had ever happened.
But, for now, the tears that dribbled down her chin were the signs of a dream not coming true.